Regardless of how long you’ve been driving, there are some conditions that shouldn’t be tackled. Sometimes it’s better to stay at home than risk life and limb trying to complete a non-essential journey when the road is coated with ice or your windscreen wipers need to be flicked into overdrive.
And when the weather gets really bad we won’t be the only ones sharing that advice. The Met Office has a system in place to rank the worst of the worst weather and tell you when it’s in your best interest to take shelter.
What Do Weather Warnings Mean?
The National Severe Weather Warnings Service is operated by the Met Office and acts to notify the general public whenever upcoming extreme weather conditions could impact their lives and put them in danger.
Thanks to advances in meteorological technology, the Met Office can display these warnings up to a week in advance while explaining what to expect and what actions to take to keep safe.
The types of weather that the NSWWS can alert you to include:
- Extreme heat
To make life easier, the Met Office colour-codes each warning in yellow, amber or red based on the level of severity that’s expected. They do this using a Warning Impact Matrix which assesses and then combines the seriousness of the impacts expected with how likely the impact is to actually happen.
In plain text, that’s not so easy to get your head around, so the Met Office provides a diagram of their Matrix in action, seen below.
Yellow and amber represent, ironically, a bit of a grey area in which a variety of impactful events could take place. These range from less severe outcomes like travel delays or cancelled public transport journeys, through to water supply and power cuts and potential threat to life.
The Met Office does break them down individually, though:
Yellow Weather Warning
Yellow is used when the impact to everyday life is likely to be low and generally manageable or it could be severe but is unlikely to actually occur. This category is where you might find travel disruptions or other situations that will allow many people to get on with their lives as normal, but some will be directly affected. Because of the spectrum-like scale, it’s important to check the warning in detail to determine if you are likely to be affected personally, and how.
In the diagram above, the placement of the tick means that a severe weather event causing low levels of disruption is quite likely to occur.
Amber Weather Warning
Amber means that the likelihood of your daily life being affected by extreme weather is increased. At this stage, the travel disruptions could extend to road and rail closures. Plus, this is where you may start experiencing power outages. An Amber warning also represents the potential for danger to life and damage to property. The NSWWS recommends taking preventative action to ensure yourself, your family and your community are prepared for what may – or may not – end up being a nasty weather event.
Red Weather Warning – Now this is where things get serious. As you can see, only one section of the matrix diagram is red, and it represents a highly dangerous weather forecast that is almost certain to have an impact on human life. Immediate action should be taken to prepare yourself and others for the upcoming extreme weather, and disruption to travel, power and water should be anticipated. Your local authorities and emergency services will offer advice that should not be ignored and, unless absolutely necessary, you should not travel.
How to Find Out if There’s a Weather Warning
Weather warnings will likely be shared far and wide on various social media platforms, including by your friends and family. However, to ensure that you’re getting accurate and up-to-date information, the best places to look include the Met Office app, website and official social media pages, along with Met Office email alerts or TV & radio news broadcasts.
Their website and app will allow you to track alerts to monitor their development and examine the information at your leisure, while social media sites like Twitter host official Met Office Weather Alert accounts which can be followed, sending you a notification whenever an update is posted.
Can You Drive In a Yellow Weather Warning Area?
It is perfectly reasonable to drive in an area that lies within a Yellow weather warning zone, but you should use caution. Adjust your driving habits accordingly, perhaps by slowing down a little and leaving extra space between yourself and the car in front in case reduced traction or visibility causes problems.
Strong winds can also lead to a sense that you’re losing control of the vehicle, but relax and keep both hands on the steering wheel to ensure you don’t lose focus.
If a road is flooded, don’t attempt to drive through it and if snow or ice are wreaking havoc, try to stick to main roads where possible as these should hopefully have been gritted.
Make sure your fog lights are working properly and, in general, take extra care.
Can You Drive In an Amber Weather Warning Area?
It’s more of the same when driving in an Amber area, and that goes for “extra care” too. Once again, nobody can stop you driving through an Amber weather warning, unless the specific roadway you’re on has been closed or otherwise affected severely enough to make it unsafe.
Exercise caution and be prepared for disruptions including more traffic than usual and road closures due to flooding or more extreme situations, like fallen trees or other accidents.
Can You Drive In a Red Weather Warning Area?
This may come as a surprise to some, but you can indeed drive during a Red weather warning. Since the warning essentially boils down to some sternly-worded advice, you can travel if it’s absolutely necessary. Bear in mind that this does not answer the question “is it safe to drive in a Red weather warning”, because often, it’s not.
But, if you do find yourself out on the road in a Red warning area, take extreme caution and prepare for severe disruptions. You should even consider packing emergency supplies, like food, water and a blanket as there is every chance you might find yourself stranded in your car for lengthy periods of time.
Are You Insured to Drive In Red or Amber Weather Warnings?
Urban myths, probably spread throughout the internet, have left some people believing that if you find yourself out on the road during a Red or Amber weather warning, your insurance company won’t pay out if you were to fall foul of the adverse conditions.
This is not true. As long as you are driving responsibly (by taking extra care and not tearing through torrential rain and flood water like you’re Aquaman) and your car is, of course, MOT’d and road safe, then your insurance policy will remain valid.
Similarly, as long as you’re driving within the law and not ignoring road closure signage, your insurance will cough up.
However, be warned that if they can prove that your driving was careless or without the appropriate level of caution, they will almost certainly dispute your claim. You may even find that your roadside recovery will be invalid, too.
The underlying lesson here is simple: don’t drive, unless you have to. If you have to, be extra careful.
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